Coming to BYU-Hawaii wasn’t always his plan, but Shanmugsundaram Arumugam, or Shan, said his journey to the school is rooted in his conversion to the Gospel. With little support from his non-member family, the new freshman from southern India studying business management said he remains positive that this path will lead to a better future for him and the people of India.
Shan met LDS missionaries Elder Smoot and Elder Solomon at a bus station in 2012. “I said, 'Hi,' to them first. I knew little English at the time.” They handed him an invitation to an English class along with a pamphlet and exchanged numbers with him. “At first, I didn’t respond to their calls. Later, I started going and reading with them. I really liked them. We became good friends.”
This same year, Shan said he was struggling with his life’s purpose. “I was searching. I was thinking I want to be a good person.” After accepting the invitation to take the missionary lessons, he was baptized on Jan. 1, 2013 without his family’s approval, which he said was worth it because of the changes he experienced.
“I had a problem with the Word of Wisdom… and my family has seen my changes,” he said.
“Then I started to become more involved in church. I really felt the true love of the members in the Coimbatore District. Each family treated me as one of their family members. I was looking for love, and I got the true love.” The members encouraged Shan to go on a mission, but he said his family was against it. “After I joined the church, I was all alone. I stayed at my branch president’s home and in a government hostel. I ate food with my branch president. They helped me to go on a mission.”
He got a call on a Wednesday in 2015 to serve in the India Delhi Mission, where he spent the majority of his time in Mumbai.
On a Wednesday night during his service, he got a call from his mission president. “[He said] you have to go home. My dad had a heart attack problem, a health issue.”
Shan said he felt conflicted because he and his companion were preparing for the baptism of two children of a family who were investigating for two years.
“I didn’t go home. I chose to stay on my mission because I knew God would help my dad. Then I got a call on Saturday saying that everything is okay.”
His decision to stay led to more conversions, Shan added. “Because the two kids joined the church, the parents ended up joining. Because of them, there were four other families that got baptized.”
Shan said the dad of the first family, Brother James, was pivotal in those conversions. “One day the dad was super sick. We got a call from his wife [asking us] to help him. We went to his home. He was laying on a bed. He didn’t have food to eat. I just cleaned up the room, and I cooked the food, and I just put some oil on his head as medicine and gave him a blessing.
“That blessing worked him.” From that day, the father gained a testimony and started coming to church little by little.
Shan finished what he described as a successful mission in 2016. “I came home. My family and branch president welcomed me at the airport. Then I stayed with my family for 10 days.”
He relocated to New Delhi for one month but had a hard time finding a job. He said, “One night I knelt down and prayed. I heard a voice say, ‘Mark 11:24.’” The verse reads: “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” He decided to go back to Coimbatore, where he found a job immediately.
Along with a job came the call to serve as a branch clerk in the Coimbatore First Branch. While gaining skills from that calling, he had a dream one night about studying in one of the church schools. “I had small money saved on my own, but I started the application.”
One member, George Scott, an American who was living in the area at the time, helped Shan financially with the application. “But the rest of it, I paid my own [way].
“Meanwhile, I met [James Faustino] in April or May 2016. He’s one of the keys for me to come to BYU-Hawaii.” Shan said he also had met President Tanner during his mission. “He invited me to come to BYU-Hawaii.” Shan described his application process with 2 Nephi 28:30: line upon line, precept upon precept.
“Within five days [of applying], I got my visa. I’m the first person in my community to come abroad, and I’m the first person from my district to come to a BYU. I’m the only Mormon of my entire village (Perundurai). I’m the first missionary. And I’m the first person who is coming to BYU-Hawaii.”
During his travels to India, James Faustino, director of Admissions and Recruiting, said Coimbatore was not on his list of places to travel in preparation of recruiting students to BYUH. When Shan found out Faustino would not be traveling through his hometown in the “outskirts” of India, Faustino said Shan decided to fly on an airplane to meet with him.
Faustino said Shan took a 12-hour round-trip plane ride to meet him. Faustino said, “It was all within a 24-hour period, and he didn’t stay. He didn’t have money to find a place to stay. He got on the plane, came, and presented me with a gift that was probably more than he could afford.”
Shan is an example of what the I-WORK Program is looking for, said Faustino. “We wanted to ensure that we were properly bringing the right people in being able grow the church instead of just aiding with migration to the USA. You need to find the right individuals who understand and commit into what our I-WORK Program is trying to accomplish.
“He is one of those that had found the church and immediately, despite the persecutions he knew that would follow, he decided to join the church.”
The Polynesian Cultural Center orientation for I-WORK students gave Shan confirmation that he was in the right place. “It reminded me of the scripture: many are called but few are chosen.”
In addition to helping him improve his life, Shan said the Gospel “taught me to love my family” despite their disapproval of his choices. “Even though this Gospel helped me to understand that they don’t hate me, but the just don’t like that I joined the church. But this Gospel helped to understand and love them again.”
“Going to BYUH and seeing the love the people have, seeing many people from all over the world, seeing the Plan of Salvation – what I learned from my mission has come true.”
Faustino added, “Many students like Shan who come here, don’t know anyone or anything [outside of India]. He is not used to seeing clear blue water and the sky without pollution. This is foreign to him. He is going to be blessed and has already been blessed by being here, but I know so many people will be blessed by meeting him.”
As for his future, Shan said, “I want to help the people as I did in my mission. I want to show them with all my life what I’m learning at BYU-Hawaii, and I want everyone in the world to know this gospel, especially in my own country.”
He said he hopes to become the CEO of one of the top 10 companies in India.
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Oct. 2017 print issue.